By KRYSTAL NURSE
Protecting the Pinelands National Reserve has been the goal of an environmental organization that advocates for conservation laws and regulations at the state’s largest reserve.
The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) has worked in coordination with many environmental groups to keep the integrity of the 1.1-million-acre reserve and fight off companies and development projects that violate conservation laws.
The latest battle involves the Southern Reliability Link constructed by New Jersey Natural Gas.
“We focus on making sure those rules are implemented and aren’t compromised when someone powerful comes around … ” explained PPA Executive Director and Medford resident Carleton Montgomery. “We work to strengthen those rules when someone comes around to challenge them. We’ve won and lost some battles. Even in the battles lost, it shows someone is willing to fight if the rules don’t permit.”
PPA advocacy has included a mix of protests, legal opinions, public statements at meetings and petitions to alert state officials of a project under question. Montgomery clarified that the nonprofit’s focus is largely on projects in conservation areas, rare species habitats and other zones not permitted for development.
The fight, however, is not always easy.
“A lot of towns don’t like to say no because there are some powerful businesses,” Montgomery admitted. “Then you go to the Pinelands Commission by submitting a formal report of comments from environmental groups and people. Government agencies need to know they care about these places and they expect the government to do the right things.”
Not all decisions are in favor of the PPA, but Montgomery said legal fights have led to some proposals going away completely, and others returning years later.
The Southampton-based nonprofit does not just focus on corporations. It has been known to inform people about projects in their own backyards.
“We give them the opportunity to get involved and it helps them have that advantage,” Montgomery explained. “It’s easy for local officials who want something done for one reason or another, and say, ‘Well, you’re just nimby; you only care about it because it’s in your backyard.’ And that’s not a bad thing! You should be worried about it because it’s behind your house.”
The fight on the Southern Reliability Link pipeline has inspired an alliance campaign because its construction caused a crack in the foundation of an Upper Freehold Township home.
“We think it’s (the pipeline) completely useless and that’s based on the fact that utilities can make more money by building up their infrastructure,” Montgomery explained. “We hope we are fighting this pipeline and engaging people so much, where the next bad idea does not come to fruition because PPA, citizens and everything else was there to stop it.”
Fights continue in courts and local governments, but Montgomery said PPA activism has a lighter side. Roughly 40,000 students have explored the Pine Barrens, learning about the preserve’s biodiversity and its habitat.
“The streams in the heart of the Pinelands at Batsto and Mullica rivers are so much fun to paddle in,” he noted. “I love going to a place you’ve never been to before to explore what that one person can find everywhere.”
To volunteer or learn more about PPA, visit PinelandsAlliance.org.